An Islamic militant group in Bangladesh, Ansarullah Bangla Team, has issued a ‘hit-list’ of secular bloggers, writers and activists around the world, saying they will be killed if its demands are not met. This list includes a number of individuals who are based overseas.
Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19 said:
‘This international threat to writers and bloggers is an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression. Such threats often have a chilling effect on expression, encouraging individuals and organisations to self-censor for fear of violent reprisal. People must be able to openly debate important issues, including issues of religion and ideology, without fear of attack: the online space provides an essential and unique forum for that exchange.’
ARTICLE 19 believes strongly in the right to blog and has published a set of international legal principles in support of this. In July this year ARTICLE 19 launched a Charter of Bloggers’ Rights in Bangladesh, where the organization continues to work extensively on bloggers rights and other internet freedoms.
This hit-list was issued as part of an online statement by the Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), a group that has often taken responsibility for the numerous murders of bloggers and activists in Bangladesh over the last 18 months. Those killed have been prominent secularists, or critics of extremist religious doctrines.
This is the first instance in which the ABT has threatened bloggers or activists outside of Bangladesh, and the list will be a cause for concern for security authorities in Europe and the US. Officials believe the ABT is close to the Ansar ul-Islam organisation, which is part of al-Qaida in south Asia.
Police have charged an ABT organiser and four supporters with the murder of a 27-year-old blogger, Washiqur Rahman, in Dhaka in March.